The Martini Diaries – Episode 12

25th November – 4th December 2019

In which I reflect on my environmental footprint, lament the lack of scientific disciplined debate in environmental issues, fly to Belfast for three days, wonder why Belfast goes to bed at 10 pm, experience BA flight cancellations, live out of a small valise longer than intended, inter my Father’s ashes, celebrate my Birthday with a shave at Trumpers and meet the Chelsea Pensioners for the annual Christmas Cheese Ceremony.

Monday 25 November 2019

After a thankfully relatively quiet week of conferences, meetings and a delivering a couple of speeches I am feeling back to normal. I attended the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (ACEVO) annual conference in London (I had sat on the steering committee), the British Nutrition Foundation Annual Day, a Strategic Planning day with our publishers Cambridge University Press in Cambridge, visited University College London for the first time, and finished on Friday interviewing potential new members of staff. I even found time at the weekend to finish my Airfix kit (which I started back in August!).

Luncheon at the British Nutrition Foundation day in the Royal College of Physcians
Professor Sue Latham-New delivering the plenary keynote at the British Nutrition Foundation day

I start this week heading off to an airport for another flight, this time short haul to Belfast for a few days to attend a conference and begin to develop a new strategic partnership.

I have lost count of how many flights I have made this year.

(But this app from BA helps a little!)

Not wishing to appear unconcerned by the environment but I really don’t really care how many flights I have made. What is important to understand is the incredible value from face-to-face meetings. Skype cannot replace the reality of looking someone in the eye, spending time with them socially, experiencing different cultures, building sustainable relationships for the improvement of life and science. We ignore the real value of developing soft power at our peril.

I have though, as a contribution to the wider environment, dramatically reduced my plastic consumption:

  • Milk is now delivered to my house in bottles
  • We have replaced cling film with beeswax wraps
  • We buy fruit and vegetables loose from the local market
  • I am even now travelling with my own shampoo etc in reusable containers to avoid using the small hotel toiletries.
  • In addition I do not own a car, and make considerable use of public transport.

I am doing more than my fair share to help with the problems in the environment. I believe if everyone made small changes we would see major changes. Moreover, the UK is already a leader – it is some other major industrial countries which need to catch up! I am not therefore intimidated by ‘rebellions’ (although I am very irritated by the disruption and damage they cause), or 16 year old children who cannot possibly yet have developed any advanced form of critical thinking (and why do politicians and others pamper to these children as though they are some kind of scientific gurus – they have admirable beliefs, but really?).

In a World where it is too easy to be overwhelmed with information I am only interested in evidence-based data and science. I fear much of what we are inundated with are ‘projections’, but they are often presented to us as ‘indisputable facts’. Who can, as an expert, make the most catastrophic predictions? In my working world I am privileged to be surrounded by scientists and researchers in the field of nutrition, where disciplined debate is the engine of scientific discovery. However, I read recently a quote which described eco-extremists as shutting down discussions that dissent from the Apocalypse narrative. Surely science should be better than that?

We landed in Belfast at 8 pm, having nearly missed our flight when, despite the display boards at Heathrow saying it was delayed, the flight boarded on time and we almost had to run to catch it! On arrival at our hotel, The Hilton, we headed straight for a late dinner at their newly restored Sonoma Bar and Grill. Here the fun began. Firstly, we could not understand our waiter, so heavy was his accent. Together we managed to piece together every fourth of fifth word and managed to collectively respond – so embarrassing for us to be like this as well travelled people. We ordered dinner and a bottle of decent red wine. The waiter delivered the bottle (a Chateau Pontet) and two glasses, uncorked the wine, put the bottle on the table and walked away. My cry of “The wine gets from the bottle into the glass how?” fell on deaf ears. This was clearly going to be an evening of self service. The wine was though excellent, and the food satisfactory.

Suddenly, after we had just finished the main course, all the lights were turned on in the room – it went from a subdued cool atmosphere to being blinded by the light. I looked at my watch – it was only 10 pm. Apparently that was closing time. As my colleague and I were still working during this dinner (we were discussing at length a re-structuring in the office team) we picked up our half finished bottle and glasses and walked out to the bar on the other side of reception – Number 4 bar, described as ‘The place to be seen in’. We sat down with our bottle, having felt a little strange walking through the reception lobby area with a half finished bottle! After finishing the wine, and when debating whether to move onto a Bushmills as a night cap, the barman appeared and announced it was last orders for cash, but we could charge items to our room (it was only 11 pm – clearly it is not the ‘place to be seen’ after a certain hour!). After a Bushmills the barman returned and announced the bar would close sometime between 12 am and 1 am. We asked what that meant – he didn’t know exactly when the bar would close. Bizarre. We ordered a second Bushmills and eventually left at 12.30 am.

Tuesday 26 November 2019

Worked out in my room at 7 am with my new stretch band (easy to travel with and saves time going to the gym), enjoyed a good breakfast and spent the day at the conference (which fortunately was next to the hotel).

At 7.30 pm we attended a Civic Reception in the impressive City Hall to welcome us to Belfast, and then headed around the corner for dinner at Home.

Welcome at the civic reception

A much better experience than last night – the wine was poured for tasting, the food was excellent – especially for my vegetarian colleagues. However, at 10 am we found ourselves the only people in the restaurant and even though we were still eating and talking the staff starting putting chairs on tables around us. What is it with Belfast? Are people so tired they have to go to bed by 10 pm? We walked back to the hotel, back to the ‘place to be seen’, a night cap of Bushmills and then a comfortable 12 am end to the day.

Wednesday 27 November 2019

The conference finished at 1 pm allowing us to head to Belfast airport for our 3.15 pm flight. A chance for a relax in the BA Lounge and de-brief on the trip. Check-in was fine, and we settled in the Lounge at 2 pm with a glass of champagne and some complimentary sandwiches to de-brief on the trip and continue our office re-structuring discussion. We boarded on time, strapped up and pushed back. Half way to the end of the runway the pilot announced the hydraulics were not working properly and we were returning to the ramp for an engineer to look. After a further delay the pilot announced the aircraft broken – the spare parts were in England – so we had to leave the aircraft and return to the terminal.

BA were then superb – by the time we had collected our luggage from the carousel my BA app announced we had been booked onto the next flight, due to leave at 7.30 pm. We checked in again and returned to the Lounge at 5.30 pm. Without even asking the staff member in the Lounge walked over with two glasses of champagne! We settled down to wait. The 7.30 pm flight was then delayed until 8.15 pm, then 9.15 pm. There is only so much champers one can drink as the hours wore on. Eventually we boarded at 9.30 pm (after 7 hours in the terminal), and I found myself in row 37. I expressed surprise that, firstly there were 37 rows in an aircraft, and secondly how frustrating to have started 7 hours ago in row 1 and now be relegated to 37 – I was though secretly delighted just to have a seat and to be heading back to England!

The view from row 37!

The flight attendant was very apologetic, and during the flight delivered me a G&T on a silver tray – a nice touch, although I think it somewhat surprised most of the passengers as she delivered from the front of the aircraft all the way down the aisle to me. We didn’t take off until 10 pm, landed at Heathrow at 11.10 pm – no chance of getting home, my railway station is 45-60 minutes from Heathrow and the last train at 11.30 pm. Off to another hotel at no notice, and in bed by 1 am (I need to catch up on sleep again soon!).

The more one travels the more chance I guess there is of something going wrong. But after my experiences trying to get to China, my problems in Dublin in October and now this delay I am feeling more than a little jinxed.

Thursday 28 November

I awoke at 7 am, very tired, and, after another night of sleeping in canned air in a hotel, rather rough. I had breakfast in my room to save time, but still managed to arrive late in my office to be on a conference call. Later, still dragging my small valise I have been living out for 4 days now, I travelled across London to Holborn to attend the Medical Societies CEO meeting – a form of collaboration to help coordinate our various societies’ work. This travelling meant missing my lunch, which I substituted with a mince pie upon arrival at the meeting. Sleep deprivation, poor diet, canned air, endless travelling, I feel a few New Year resolutions coming on next month!

Meeting finished at 4.30 pm and I managed to catch the 5.30 pm train home to arrive at the annual Christmas Tree Festival at St Mary Le Tower Church in Ipswich by 7 pm. This event runs for a week, where the Church is filled by local supporters with sponsored and decorated Christmas Trees. It is free to the public, and supported by a cafe run by volunteers (my wife included) – it is an exhausting week for the volunteers. Because of my travels this was my first opportunity to visit. I left with my wife at 8 pm and enjoyed a late supper, and was asleep by 10 pm.

Friday 29 November 2019

I awoke at 8 am – 10 hours sleep, wonderful, at last! Today we interred my Father’s ashes in the family plot. My Mother was naturally very upset, but the mood lightened quickly when she insisted upon burying his wallet with the ashes, saying he would never wish to be parted from it! The family lunched together at the Duke of York in Woodbridge and then we returned home for the evening alone. Such a relief to have a chance to slow down for a few days.

Monday 2 December 2019

Packed my battered valise again this morning, but this time no flying. A few long days in London means it makes more sense to stay at the Club rather than constantly travel home late at night and early in the morning. An external meeting with a strategic partner at 10 am in Portland Place for 2 hours, and then my EA gave me the eye from the end of the table which is my hint I need to leave for the next event. Back across London to my office for a staff meeting, and then back to the Royal Society of Medicine in central London to prepare for our several hundred guests who will be attending our annual reception that evening.

Guests began arriving at 5.15 pm. The delightfully engaging Ambassador from Georgia, Her Excellenny Tamar Beruchashvili, and her daughter Rusudan, attended. We caught up on all things Georgian and then developed a plan for me to visit Georgia in February for some lecturing and skiing. For those of you who have not yet discovered Georgia, and her people, you need to catch up – it is a beautiful country, culture, history, wine, food, skiing, people. Joanna Lumley is a big fan (watch her on You Tube!).

The Ambassador on the left, her daughter and Dr Manana Stanley

Only managed one glass of wine all night – everyone wanted to say hello, and unintentionally stop me reaching the bar – but, people are so very kind. Nutritional scientists and researchers, as well as our many stakeholders, are the nicest people I have ever had the pleasure to work with in my career. Evenings like this reinforce that feeling. I left at 7.45 pm and walked very briskly back to the Club (I had a reservation for dinner at 8 pm). A superb dinner of Stilton, pear and spinach dartois (with a spiced butternut squash veloute), followed by Ham hock and leek pudding (with a cheese crust), flushed down with the Club Claret. After so much talking and socializing it was a welcome hour to spend on my own in the dining room with just my book for company (Robert Harris’ ‘The Second Sleep’ – a decidedly dark and creepy read).

Tuesday 3 December 2019

Started today with my stretch band again, and then tea in bed with the newspaper. Big breakfast of eggs, bacon, sausage, toast and grapefruit and ready to face a day of conferencing back at the Royal Society of Medicine. The day finished at 5.30 pm with another reception, this time with the guests/delegates at the conference. Learning from last night I positioned myself closer to the bar and enjoyed another wonderful evening. Back to the Club for dinner again at 8 pm. I ate the same dartois again (it was historic), and then the seafood vol au vent. The food in the Club has come along way over the years (it used to be little better than school dinners), and now is some of the finest I suspect you will Find in any Club in London.

I stopped by the bar on my way back to my room to pick up a glass of Hine – I am a little behind with emails, so sat up in bed in my silk robe sipping this fine cognac and working until nearly midnight. A very comfortable sleep follows – as sometimes can only happen when you finish the work of the day in the day.

Wednesday 4 December 2019

A decent night’s sleep, but awoke bewildered not knowing where I was – an occasional challenge for me after a good deep sleep whilst away from home travelling. I literally wake up sometimes confused by my surroundings. Even more confusing is I suddenly remember it is my Birthday – I am another year older, yet still under 60 (just). Can’t remember the last time I was at home for my Birthday (and my record for the wedding anniversary is not much better!).

I am in my Club I quickly realize. Radio Four Today 7 am news (spoilt by having to listen to that ghastly biased Nick Robinson’s ego), a cup of tea in bed whilst reading the Daily Telegraph, which has been delivered to my room, and my day begins. I opt for a lighter breakfast of just bacon and scrambled eggs, toast, coffee and half a grapefruit and then, just before 9 am, walk around the corner from Piccadilly to Curzon Street to Trumpers.

Here, I enjoy the singular pleasure of being shaved as a self-imposed birthday treat. The pre-shave oil facial massage, the hot towels, the smell of sandalwood shaving cream, the efficient brisk shaving with the ‘cut throat’ razor, the cold towel, the after shave balm facial massage.

Then, suddenly at 9.35 am, after 30 minutes it is sadly over. I put my tie and jacket back on, my hair is combed for me, my jacket lightly brushed across the shoulders, and my barber opens the door for me and I exit onto Curzon Street again. There is nothing quite like the sensation of such a treat first thing in the morning. It is like being transported back into a bygone age, the smells, the sensation of being shaved, the sense of well being that I am perfectly groomed to face the day ahead.

I make my way via the Victoria and Circle line to Sloane Square and the short walk to the Royal Hospital Chelsea for the annual Ceremony of the Christmas Cheeses.

This is a simply wonderful event, to which I have been very kindly invited to for the past 3 years. Sponsored by Diary UK, the tradition sees 268 kilos of cheese donated to the Chelsea Pensioners for Christmas. The Royal Hospital has been the home to the Chelsea Pensioners since it was founded by King Charles II in 1682 as a retreat for military veterans. Home to 300 veterans, it is now open to male and females, who have served in the British Army (but not officers, unless they had served for at least 12 years in the ranks first). As a Royal Air Force officer I always feel a bit of a fraud being there!

We guests enjoy coffee between 10 am and 11 am and then make our way over to the Grand Hall for the ceremony. Music, pomp, ceremony, a sword brandished to cut the cheese, and then a beer or glass of bubbles with the Pensioners. After 3 years, I now recognise several of the in-pensioners and we enjoy catching up.

There is something unique about we ex-military people, regardless of rank – it’s probably the largest ‘trade union’ in the country – the banter, humour, instant comfort between us. On days like this I miss my old military life and the comradeship. It feels like going home for a few hours each year. I am very grateful to Diary UK for inviting me.

After the ceremony we head back to the Council Chamber for luncheon – a room dating back to 1776, with glorious portraits from 1674 onwards. We consumed thyme roasted beets and goat’s curd mousse, followed by slow-cooked leg of lamb and then apple macaroon. Washed down with Chardonnay from Australia and a Tempranillo from Spain, and capped off with a selection of British Cheeses.

I left, somewhat unsteady, at 2.45 pm to return to the conference being hosted in Wimpole Street. I arrived in time for the closing ceremony and then made my way home, by train, arriving at 7.30 pm. We dined on Sushi delivered from Lux, the local Sushi restaurant and then it was time for birthday presents. Cashmere, chocolates from Hotel Chocolat, and a pile of new books made my day. Happy Birthday me!